Tip #5 from the Syllabus Challenge

Offer public-facing projects

The Syllabus Challenge provides critically reflective questions and practical ideas for inclusive teaching in action. Check out Tips 1-4 here. Tip #5 challenges our assumptions about the target audience of student assignments. Are your professor eyes the only ones that see what students create to demonstrate their learning? Could that maybe have an impact on their engagement and motivation? 

Tip #5 = Offer public-facing projects

I am just going to come out and say it. As a student, writing tons and tons of research papers, literary synthesis papers, data analysis reports, and lab reports for my professors to judge was not exactly the most real-world experience. My peers and I became quite skilled at the formula for these assignments to the point where we could procrastinate and turn these around in the last 2 days. Truth be told, I did not find myself feeling very connected to the research I was conducting by reading all the journal articles. But I had to churn those papers out for a grade. 

Looking back, I cannot recall any opportunity to connect my learning to an outside group, community organization, or anyone beyond my professors. The one exception would be if I was required to present to my classmates. Considering many of my professors expressed their own pedagogical values around real-world application and social change, the lack of engagement with those beyond our classroom walls was a bit surprising. 

What if we de-center ourselves?

Our traditional modes of assessing learning are to have the individual students (sometimes teams) hand over some product as proof that they learned. Whether it be a quiz, exam, paper, project, or presentation, the faculty member is the main target audience. We are the keepers of the grades and almost always the only people with access to the “proof.” 

What if the public becomes the main audience for students as they express what they learned?

Many of you are aware of the intersectionality public education project that I developed years ago (available on my resources page). Essentially, students were invited (required) to choose a public target audience and create some pathway to teaching that audience about intersectionality. They could choose a specific intersection or focus on intersectionality as a concept/theory.

This rendered me as nearly invisible as they focused on a group outside of our class to educate in some way. Their energy was palpable as they began to discover how what they were learning could be used to raise awareness, provide support, and encourage ally behavior. No doubt, the grade was important to them, but it seemed to become secondary to the mission of doing some good in the world. We ended up with public audiences such as juvenile detention officers, women’s studies faculty members, and transnational domestic workers in New York City.

Steal this project

If you think a public-facing project might work for you as a first step, feel free to convert the intersectionality public education project to the [insert your topic here] public education project. 

On a smaller scale

No doubt, many readers of this newsletter are already creatively turning assessment into social change pathways for students. Everything from twitter campaigns to digital archives to student-led webinars and symposia can make that shift from “show the professor you deserve an A” to “use what you learned to make a difference.” No time like the present.

Center the public to increase engagement

Do my larger assessments (papers, projects, team presentations) only come to me as the professor for review? 

Are students motivated to plan far ahead to write a research paper for you as the instructor?

How can we rework assessments to be public facing rather than centering the professor as the only viewer in the grading process?

What if students choose the public audience they wish to target for their expression of what they learned?

What if students apply their learning to a social problem relevant to that public audience and/or their own cultural community background and social location?

okay, your turn!

How could you adjust your assessment plan to go beyond the professor’s eyes? In the Syllabus Challenge, open the link and skip down to slide #9-10. These slides provide ideas and reflective questions for switching up the traditional assessment and moving students into application for raising public awareness and supporting the public good. The questions also go into broader ideas for inclusive assessment.

Learn more about the White Anti-Racism and Action course I created for (aspiring) white allies, including two modules on anti-racist pedagogy.
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